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Richland County commits $150,000 to help displaced Allen Benedict Court residents

Columbia resident describes emotions of being evacuated because of gas leaks

Allen Benedict Court resident Keith Wise shares his experience of being evacuated following a gas leak that claimed the lives of two people.
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Allen Benedict Court resident Keith Wise shares his experience of being evacuated following a gas leak that claimed the lives of two people.

After more than 400 very low-income residents were ousted from their homes at Allen Benedict Court due to deadly gas leaks, Richland County taxpayers will chip in $150,000 to help them.

Richland County Council last week approved the funding to help cover residents’ day-to-day needs. County staff will coordinate with the city and with local agencies that are working with the residents.

Residents’ special needs such as medication, laundry facilities and child care services might be falling through the cracks, County Councilwoman Dalhi Myers noted in a news release. The county’s funding could go toward meeting those types of needs, she said.

“We can’t give them a new home,” Myers said in the news release. “But we can make their temporary home a little happier.”

Last month, 411 residents of the Allen Benedict Court public housing complex were evacuated due to widespread natural gas leaks. Two men died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the apartments run by the Columbia Housing Authority.

The displaced residents have been temporarily housed at local hotels, and many have been provided federal rental assistance vouchers — though, not all people with rental vouchers are able to immediately find new landlords that will accept them.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed against the Housing Authority in the wake of the gas leaks and evacuations. Investigators from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are scrutinizing the deaths and the management of the apartments. And the Allen Benedict Court crisis has launched safety inspections of every other property managed by the Housing Authority.

The county’s $150,000 assistance grant works out to about $365 per Allen Benedict resident.

Local agencies that receive county funding to aid the Allen Benedict Court residents must submit a plan of action for using the money and will be subject to a county audit, county officials said.

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Sarah Ellis has reported on Columbia and Richland County since 2014. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in journalism. She’s probably skipping happy hour to go to a County Council meeting.
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